KAMPALA - Four agencies from the United Nations Network for Scaling-Up Nutrition (SUN) today congratulated Uganda for reducing the rate of stunting among its young children from 33 percent in 2011 to 29 percent in 2016.
Citing results of the newly published Demographic and Health Survey 2016, the agencies particularly noted the gains made in the poorest region, Karamoja, where the stunting rate fell from 45 percent in 2011 to 35.2 percent in 2016.
The four agencies are the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) and the World Health Organization (WHO).
The urgent task for the future, the organizations said, is for the Government of Uganda and all its partners to step up joint efforts to eradicate all forms of malnutrition by 2030, in line with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
"The progress made in reducing stunting in Uganda is significant," the FAO Country Representative Alhaji M. Jallow said, "but we must acknowledge that a 29 percent rate is still unacceptable, and that the associated cost to lives and economies is of concern."
Stunting leaves children short for their age, and undermines their chances of reaching their full potential later in life. Children's growth is stunted when they miss out on key dietary nutrients during their first 1,000 days of life - or the time from conception to a child's second birthday - when a child's brain and body develop fastest. Healthy nutrition is most vital during this critical "window of opportunity," which also offers the greatest returns for any country in preventing stunting.
"Achieving Zero Hunger and the other SDGs by 2030 will not be easy, but it is possible if all partners commit to their national, regional and global pledges," said WFP Country Director El Khidir Daloum. "Uganda has managed to bring down its stunting rate by nearly one percentage point per year, which is admirable progress that many other countries would hope to emulate, but in order to reach the Zero Hunger goal, we will all have to work together to more than double that rate of improvement."
The Cost of Hunger in Africa: Uganda 2013 study - which was carried out by the Uganda Government with support from the African Union Commission, WFP and the UN Economic Commission for Africa - found that Uganda loses as much as 5.6 percent of its Gross Domestic Product to the lingering effects of poor nutrition, especially stunting.
The four UN agencies noted that Uganda can continue to reduce the stunting rate as it develops its second Nutrition Action Plan and a policy aligned with the SUN aspirations.
In 2011, one year after the global SUN movement came into being, Uganda established the Nutrition Action Plan (UNAP) to tackle malnutrition and its devastating effects head on. The UNAP formed a critical foundation on which gains have been realized.
The UNAP united a wide range of partners across sectors - including FAO, UNICEF, WFP and WHO - in a joint commitment focused on the first 1,000 days. The UNAP positioned Uganda to potentially achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), in particular SDG 2, Zero Hunger. The UNAP also created opportunities for Uganda to achieve priorities of the Second National Development Plan (NDP II), key to which is building human capital.
In addition to improvement in the stunting rate, the Demographic and Health Survey 2016 also found significant improvement in several indicators of acute under-nutrition, including the proportion of young children who are underweight for their age or who experience wasting. Rates of exclusive breastfeeding and dietary adequacy have likewise improved.
Other common forms of malnutrition in Uganda include iron and Vitamin A deficiencies, which lead to anaemia and eye disease and other complications. Collectively, malnutrition in the under-nutrition category usually arises from a combination of poor diets and poor sanitation. Malnutrition in Uganda is also increasingly in the form of over-nutrition, which leads to complications related to overweight and obesity.
The UN System Network for SUN is an interagency platform that facilitates joint UN action in nutrition. The partnership is part of the broader SUN Movement, which is founded on the principle that all people have a right to food and good nutrition, so they can reach their full potential and shape sustainable and prosperous societies. More than 40 countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America have joined the movement. These governments are improving and expanding their nutrition programmes, supported by donor countries, UN organisations, civil society and the private sector.
The UN System Network for SUN is an integral part of this global cooperation. By combining specialist agencies' expertise and knowledge, the UN System Network for SUN assists governments in tackling nutrition challenges by offering support in developing cross-sector strategies, costing national nutrition action plans and identifying funding shortfalls, exploring ways to scale up and roll out plans at district and community level, and identifying better ways to monitor progress and evaluate results.
Source: World Food Programme